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BBC Eye documentary looks at those who helped expose the secret K-pop scandals

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BBC Eye documentary looks at those who helped expose the secret K-pop scandals

Burning Sun: the BBC Eye documentary about the women who exposed  the secret K-pop chat groups …

Burning Sun, a documentary by the BBC World Service’s award-winning and critically acclaimed investigations team, BBC Eye, brings together the story of two female Korean journalists who took on the task of investigating sex scandals involving prominent K-pop stars – and paid a high personal price.

The BBC Eye project earlier delivered a radio series “Intrigue: Burning Sun”, speaking to key players who fought to expose these crimes, and documenting the explosive fallout. Now, TV documentary “Burning Sun – Exposing the secret K-pop chat groups” presents gripping first-person narratives from Seoul-based reporters, Park Hyo-sil and Kang Kyung-yoon, whose journalism revealed, at a huge personal cost, horrific sex abuse committed by seemingly wholesome heartthrobs of the K-pop world.

In September 2016, Park Hyo-sil covered the accusation by a girlfriend of the K-pop star Jung Joon-young – singer-songwriter in the band, Drug Restaurant, and a TV star loved by millions – of secretly recorded sex footage. But as the girlfriend withdrew her accusations, the public turned against her, Jung became the victim – and the media “was the villain”, Park says. “I bore the brunt of it.”

Park started receiving abusive comments online and was bombarded with emails. She started receiving phone calls in the early hours. “When I didn’t answer the phone, they started sending obscene images,” she recalls. She couldn’t escape. During this time she experienced two miscarriages and is still childless. While Park tried to deal with the fall-out and incessant trolling, Jung’s career went from strength to strength with a European tour and new music releases.

In 2019, new allegations about Jung’s actions surfaced. In 2016, he had left his phone with a forensics company during the police investigation. Three years later, an anonymous informant with access to it decided to leak it. It reached Kang Kyung-Yoon, an entertainment reporter with Korea’s largest broadcaster, SBS. She was about to finish what Park had started.

The data contained Jung’s chat messages from KakaoTalk, a popular messaging app, from 2015 and 2016. “My heart still hurts when I think of that,” Kang says as she found sexually explicit videos and images of unconscious women, which involved Jung and other male K-pop stars. Among them was Choi Jong-hoon, lead guitarist of rock band FT Island. One exchange contained details of the gang rape of an unconscious woman, by Jung, Choi and others.

As Kang looked through the phone, she spotted clues which hinted at why this group felt above the law – some messages implied they were being protected by a senior police contact.

The BBC Eye documentary shows how the celebrities’ seemingly untouchable status started to unravel, and Kang’s role in this as she went to press, exposing the behaviour of the chat-group members.

The arrests encouraged other victims to come forward and press charges. It took great strength as they all had seen the public turn against Jung’s girlfriend when she first reported him to the police. Their bravery lead to major court cases against the former superstars who had publicly portrayed themselves as wholesome.  But even as justice was served, Kang, like Park, became a target for trolls. Kang’s trolling began as soon as she published her stories and continued through the court cases. It was not completely silenced by the convictions.

Kang remains hopeful that what she and Park exposed will continue to serve as a “warning about how sex and power in the K-pop industry can corrupt”. She says: “We threw a single pebble into a huge pond… It has calmed down again but I hope it’s still there in people’s memories so that if something like that happens again, we can call it out much earlier.”

Burning Sun, from the BBC World Service, is available for viewing in the UK – via BBC iPlayer – and internationally, on the BBC World Service YouTube channel. The documentary is available in Korean via the BBC News Korean YouTube channel. In June 2024, it will be broadcast as a series on the BBC News TV channel. The six-part podcast Intrigue: Burning Sun – a narrative audio treatment of this story – was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last summer. It is available in the UK on BBC Sounds and on podcast platforms internationally.

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